Viral Cities


For me, few topics are as boring as public health policy. Discussions about it have always seemed like sitting in a doctor’s office for an interminable amount of time. However, Thomas Fisher makes a good case for public health considerations in urban planning. Although public health problems are the origin of city planning, in the West it would seem that we’ve on to sexier problems, like what to do when the high-speed railways come to town. As far as contagions are concerned,  we’re walled off in virtual worlds and we’ve been conditioned to scrub our hands with anti-bacterial soap every time we touch a doorknob, so it would seem we’ve taken care of our bodies. Still, even with the relentless privatization of public space, we spend a lot of time wading through a sea of grubby strangers trailing germs everywhere. And that’s just in the immediate, lived environment. There’s more to worry about from afar. Fisher writes,

Slums can breed not only disease but also despair, and some observers worry that this will provoke bio-terrorism. In Planet of Slums Mike Davis argues that the “the ‘feral, failed cities’ of the Third World —especially their slum outskirts — will be the distinctive battle space of the twenty-first century. Pentagon doctrine is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world war of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor. This is the true ‘clash of civilizations.’”

The mass migration of rural poor to urban centers, which has been going on for centuries, continues unabated, with profound consequences not only for public health policy, but also immigration policy and global economic planning. The doesn’t generate enough wealth to trickle down to our exurbs, let alone out to the teeming masses on the outskirts of Cairo.


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